Israel ditches plans to make foreign visitors register West Bank romances

Israel has backtracked on a scheme that would have required West Bank visitors to officially declare any relationships with a Palestinian within 30 days


A Palestinian Christian couple are dressed in traditional outfits on their wedding day during the Palestinian Heritage Week in the town of Birzeit near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on August 3, 2022. (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP) (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images)

The Israeli government has backtracked on a scheme that would have required any visitors to the West Bank to declare any relationships with a Palestinian within 30 days of their visit.

On Sunday the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli body that oversees Palestinian civil affairs, published fresh guidelines for foreign entry to the West Bank.

A previous document, released in February, contained clauses obligating foreign visitors to notify Israeli authorities of any engagement, wedding, or the start of cohabitation with a Palestinian from 20 October 2022.

The rules, which would not have applied to people visiting Israeli settlements in the West Bank, had been scheduled to begin in July but were delayed by petitions to Israel’s Supreme Court. 

In the document, the proposed rules stated: “A foreigner married to a resident of the Area, or forming a couple with one, must proceed to make arrangements… before arriving at the Area. If the relationship starts after the foreigner arrived in the Area, then the authorised COGAT official must be informed in writing within 30 days of the relationship’s start. At the same time, an application must be submitted to the Palestinian Authority for formalising the status,”

On 4 September the February draft was removed and replaced with an updated version that removed these controversial rules.

The new guidance also permits foreign visas to be extended from the previously permitted 90 days to almost six months (180 days).

However the revised regulations still mandate that “the appointed COGAT official must be informed [of any relationship between the relevant foreign national and Palestinian] as part of their request to renew or extend the existing visa.”

COGAT has also eliminated proposed quotas on foreign lecturers and students at Palestinian universities, which the February draft had imposed at a maximum of 100 teachers and 150 students.

Across 2020 a total of 366 European academics and students and academics participated in West Bank-based courses, a figure that vastly outnumbers the drafted quotas.

Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Education, expressed criticism of the plans back in July, stating: “While Israel greatly benefits from Erasmus+, the [European] Commission considers that it should facilitate and not hinder the access of students to Palestinian universities”.

Along with omitting several previous guidelines, Israel has installed a two-year pilot period for the new rules.

“At the end of the pilot period, the situation will be evaluated and a decision will be made regarding whether to keep the procedure in force,” the fresh document states.

However, the US government continues to express criticism of the guidelines.

Following the omission of rules included in February’s draft, the US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, stressed that he still maintained“concerns with the published protocols.”

“Since February, the US Embassy Jerusalem, the US Office of Palestinian Affairs, and I have aggressively engaged with the Government of Israel on these draft rules – and we will continue to do so in the 45-day lead up to implementation and during the two-year pilot period,” he outlined in an official statement.

“I continue to have concerns with the published protocols, particularly regarding COGAT’s role in determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are qualified to enter the West Bank, and the potential negative impact on family unity.

“It is important to ensure all of these regulations are developed in coordination with key stakeholders, including the Palestinian Authority. I fully expect the Government of Israel to make necessary adjustments during the pilot period to ensure transparency as well as the fair and equal treatment of all US citizens and other foreign nationals traveling to the West Bank,” the ambassador continued.

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